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I Drank in Moderation Until Mental Illness Intruded

The first time I guzzled alcohol, I was seven years old. My mom had left her glass of sauvignon blanc when she went to use the restroom. I sucked down a giant gulp, like I couldn’t get it in fast enough. When my mother returned, I didn’t say anything. I don’t think she even noticed. Who would suspect their seven-year-old of stealing their booze? But that was the culture then. Isn’t it still? Parents drinking to forget they’re parents, at least for a little while.

We were a nice, middle-class suburban family. My mom was on the PTA. We wanted for nothing. But alcohol was the substitute for normal, loving adult interaction. My father was an alcoholic.

Throughout my childhood, I drank sips of my dad’s beer in the summer and half glasses of wine at Christmas. Then came college. My parents had been extremely overprotective of me, so once I got away, I lost myself.

I blacked out. I screamed obscenities. I drank and drove. I ended up in random guys’ beds. I stole liquor. I drank at work. I slept on the street.

I’d like to blame it all on the alcohol, but it was more than that—it was me—it was my lack of self-esteem and self-respect. It went on for eight years—until I met my husband. One drunken night I screamed at him over nothing and ended up in a tearful ball on the living room couch.

My roommate spoke the words that turned it all around: “If you don’t get it together, you’re going to lose him.”

I couldn’t lose him. He was worth it. So I moderated my drinking, and I did it well. For eight years, I moderated my drinking—even after a debilitating postpartum mood disorder with my firstborn. I drank in a healthy way, and I was happy, well-adjusted, stable. I was lucky—I was able to drink in moderation—not everyone can do that.

But after a second pregnancy, I went off the deep end—mania, depression, intrusive thoughts—it shook me to my core. The medication wasn’t working. Nothing was working.

I’d like to say I chose my kids from the get-go but I didn’t. Not at first. At first, I drank because…I could. Because it was what I’d always done. It was easy to think I was muting the effects of my disorder, but in reality, I was making it worse. Then one night the cravings got to be too much, the voice of reason too muddled. I gave in to the drink that controlled me, to the illness that told me such unspeakable things.

The next day I cleaned myself up, stood up tall, and made a decision.

I told myself I’d give up drinking for a year, to see what happened. In a perfect world, all my problems would have been solved with this commitment to sobriety. In reality, I was still mentally ill, and I was still incorrectly medicated. It took another nine months to get the medication cocktail right, and a lot of therapy to work through the trauma that haunted me.

But I stayed sober. And after a year of sobriety, I decided that drinking had to be a thing in my past. No more beers with my brother, no more wine tastings with my friends. I had to choose what was more important.

Sobriety with a mental illness is a tenuous thing. One false step could send me into a rage or on a bender. I have to stop thinking of how things were and focus on how they are, and of how they can be in the future. I have to be better than those who parented me, and I have to stay strong and stay dedicated. I won’t drink to forget I’m a parent. I’ll live to forget I drank.

I see so many amazing warrior moms letting out their battle cry of, “I won’t be like my parents before me! I will give my children unconditional love free of the confines of the alcohol prison!” And now I add my voice to the fight, because it is a fight. And it’s a fight that I will win, because my babies are worth it. My husband is worth it. And because I’m worth it too.

This post was submitted by Stacey.

A Sober Mommies Contributor is most often a non-professional – in and out of recovery – with reality-based experience to share about motherhood & active addiction, the multiple pathways to recovery, or a family member’s perspective.

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